Spending the weekend with my dear second cousins in California’s Coachella Valley was so much more than just family fun. Walking through the ancient groves of palms, ground made damp by recent showers, echoes of a similar experience in Northern California’s redwoods–spiritual.
From the Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve to Palm Canyon on the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation, we trekked the still canyons. Indigenous flora and fauna, which the Cahuilla people so expertly used and abundant California Fan Palm trees are contrasts to the rocky, cactus dotted gorges and barren desert lands beyond. A moderately graded, foot path winds down into the canyon.
In the shade of the palms, reconstructed native huts are dwarfed by the majestic trees. Wearing dry fronds that drape to the ground, the silence is broken only by the occasional dry whisper of a palm seed dropping through the spent hula-like natural skirts of the trees.
A visit to the Bird Song and Dance Festival furthered the native American theme of the weekend. Through the ages, bird singing and dancing have been an important part of native culture for the tribes in the Southern California and neighboring regions. Bird songs tell stories about the lessons learned during the travels native people undertook trying to better understand the birds and their migratory patterns. They are a completely oral tradition, dependent upon transfer from teacher to student.